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Opinions of Wednesday, 1 December 2004

Columnist: Africa week magazine.

Another supreme test for Ghana

Ghanaians go to the polls next month to elect a president and Members of Parliament to serve the country for the next four years. In 2000, the Ghanaian electorate proved to the world that elections could be held in Africa without violence.

The outcome of those elections turned out to be a spectacular victory for the opposition New Patriotic Party over the ruling National Democratic Congress. The NDC, too, showed the world that a defeated government in Africa could hand over power to a victorious opposition without any acrimony.

Ghanaians have, therefore, been rightly proud of their democratic credentials. But as the December elections draw near, we wonder whether there might not be underlying problems that could place the democratic process under great strain. It must be said that the NPP, to some extent, has raised the political stakes during the last four years. This is because the NPP, just as the NDC before it, has contrived to antagonise certain sections of Ghanaian society. And when you rub people up the wrong way, there is bound to be tension.

We should not kid ourselves. The political tension in Ghana today may not be obvious. But if you look closely at what has been happening during the run up to the elections, it is clear that someone behind the scenes is stoking the flames of violent conflict.

Take, for example, an advertisement earlier this year in a Liberian newspaper claiming that Ghanaian opposition parties were recruiting mercenaries in the West African sub-region to destabilise Ghana during the elections. It was obviously a plant, which clearly exposed the amateurish nature of whoever wanted to discredit opponents of the government.

In the past few months, there has been talk, on several occasions, of plots to overthrow the government. There may be something in these rumours. Or there might not be. But on Friday November 5, the Criminal Investigations Department in Accra announced that yet another coup plot had been foiled and that five people had been arrested.

What this atmosphere of apparent instability does is to create doubts in the minds of ordinary Ghanaians. And uncertainty within the political system during an election year tends to undermine the electoral process. It undermines the process in the sense that people are frightened into voting in a manner they would not have contemplated if they were doing so in a less charged political atmosphere.

So, in this regard, we believe that all the political parties that will be contesting the presidential and parliamentary elections next month owe it to Ghanaians to ensure that the process is free and fair and does not lead to violent conflict. If violence were to occur, it would not take too long before it engulfs the whole country. And no matter what Ghanaians may say, there are still elements within Ghanaian society who would very much like to see chaos in the country. They are the ones who are still determined to settle old scores. But the politicians can neutralise those who are determined to cause trouble during the elections. If the politicians behave in the manner that the democratic process demands, and they themselves do not raise the political temperature, the troublemakers will be dissuaded from causing mayhem. But if the politicians fail to keep the temperature down, then the troublemakers will succeed.

Why should there be tension in the run up to the Ghanaian elections anyway? It is clear that the two major parties ? the NPP and NDC ? are determined to win. The NPP, it appears, wants to stay in power at all costs. The NDC, it seems, wants to regain power it lost four years ago at all costs. So, if both parties want to win at all costs, then the political tension will be high.

Why would the NPP appear so scared of losing power? And why would the NDC seem so scared of remaining in opposition? In the case of the NPP, could this be because it has trodden on the toes of members of the opposition, the NDC in particular, in the past four years? It is no secret that NDC members are very bitter after a number of its former ministers received jailed sentences for what they believe were political reasons. In fact, they called it a witch-hunt.

Thus, if the NDC happens to be victorious, it could possibly try to find ways and means of getting its own back on NPP ministers. So, could this be the reason why the NDC wants to return to power at all costs?

But we must ask this question: why should Ghanaian politicians use the system in such a manner? Don?t they realise that by their very action ? for better or for worse ? the country could be plunged into chaos?

They should not forget that northern Ghana is still a hotbed of discontent following the ethnic clashes there a couple of years ago. That violent conflict, which saw the beheading of a traditional ruler, still hangs over the NPP government. Government ministers may say that they have the situation under control. But they could be very wrong. Discontent on such a scale could fester for years, until it explodes unexpectedly one day. In this regard, it makes sense for politicians to create an atmosphere that would not lead to violence. But come December, it is ordinary Ghanaians who will make the ultimate decision on who will run their lives for the next four years. One thing that is certain is that despite what the politicians might have done and said in the last few months, Ghanaians are politically astute enough to vote in the manner that they see fit. Ghanaian voters should make sure that when they cast their votes next month politicians will not take them for granted in future.

So, ordinary Ghanaians are again being called upon to take the supreme test. And we hope that they will acquit themselves well.